Monday: I roll out of bed exhausted when I hear the big girls tromping down the hall at 9:05. Shoot. They’re up. They hassle me about oatmeal and milk. All I can think about is coffee. But I’m the mom, so I get their breakfasts, then play whack-a-mole with their needs and mine for an hour. I forgot to take meds, so I go back to my bathroom to do that, but while I head back there, a fight breaks out over who gets to use the stool, so I turn back around to take care of that, then get my medicine, make one side of the bed, head back to the kitchen because they’ve gotten noisy, etc… for an hour. Then I realize that the little two are still in bed. It’s ten, and nobody’s yelling, but they’re both chattering. Brian’s yelling, “MAMA! I! WANT! TO! GET! UP!” over and over with the occasional, “I! POOPED! IN! MY! DIAPER!” thrown in for variety. So I get him up. Then Lilly. Diapers are changed. More oatmeal is made, milks poured, fights mediated, crises averted, and mischief managed. It’s fine, but it’s now quarter to eleven, and I realize that my body is on overdrive. I haven’t even looked at my calendar. Was I supposed to do something? Maybe??? Oh! Yeah. I’m meeting a friend in… FIFTEEN MINUTES?!? Fine. Okay. Everyone in the car! NOW! No, Jenna. I don’t know where your other pretty shoe is. Get your boots. It’s fine. We need socks if we’re playing at McDonalds, everyone go get them. No, Katherine. Go get in the car, stop rawring at your brother. You’re making him cry. Please respect his “no.”
On and on. It was fine. Awesome. We figured it out. But contrast this with the following morning:
Tuesday: I wake up at 8. I’m exhausted like yesterday, but at least I’m up. I brush my teeth and get meds and make the bed on my way out of my room. I get breakfast and scribble out my morning pages (it clears my head), my coffee is consumed and I look over my to-dos and my plans for the day. The girls come out quietly at 8:30 and I send them back until their lights turn green. (Side note- this works for us. They’ve been doing it since they were born- they have these clocks that change colors when it’s “get up” time. People freak out when I say that they stay in their rooms until nine, but I promise, it’s fine.) I chat a little with Andrew, put away last night’s dishes, and switch laundry into the dryer. The girls are up at 9, I point them to the oatmeal sitting in bowls on the counter, ready for water and cooking. They’ve gotten good at this. When they’re about done, I hear the babies. I toss their oatmeal in the microwave and go get them out of their beds and change them. One of them needs a quick rinse-off, but that’s no biggie. I set them both at the table. I feed Lilly and get Brian his milk while the big two play in the living room.
These are actual days of last week.
Which would you rather live through?
I used to have mostly the first kind of day, and once in a while, the second kind would happen, but I had no idea how to repeat it. Now the nicer morning is the norm. It’s not without its share of chaos, but I know how to improve the chances of calm:
There’s a lot of big talk in mom circles about daily rhythms and routines and how to move the kids through the day in a way that supports sanity in the family. I’m still figuring it out… I’m always on the hunt for ways to structure my day, but so far all I have is ways to structure my kidless (or sorta kidless) time. If I miss them, my morning has an 80% chance of ending up like Monday. If I do them, there’s 80% chance of the morning looking more like Tuesday. It’s so worth it to me.
Mornings and nights.
The difference between Monday and Tuesday this week was my evening and morning routine.
My kids’ evening routine is pretty simple: We eat dinner as soon as Andrew gets home around 6:30. By 7, we’re having the big two check their beds. (“[water] Bottles? Buddies? Blankets?”) The three oldest quickly put all the toys away (we don’t keep a lot of toys available because we’re mean, so this isn’t typically a big deal) while the baby either finishes eating or throws away trash. (She’s so good at it!) Then it’s teeth and stories (if there’s time) and prayers in a routine that feels chaotic but only takes 30-60 minutes most nights (plus the repeated “go back to bed” after bathroom trips, etc).
Then my work begins.
I’ve honed my PM checklist over the last few years. In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande talks about ideal length of lists (short) and what kind of things should be on them. Here’s what I’m down to:
- Kitchen: I do dishes and counters. If I’ve done dishes at least one other time per day, this may only take ten minutes. Imagine what I could do if I had a DISHWASHER!
- Dining room table: This is a new addition—I feel better if I wipe it down. So I do. Takes very little time.
- Tidy: Attack whatever is in the living room/dining room area. It rarely takes long.
- Start laundry: No, it doesn’t sour overnight. I’ve found that one load a day works really well for me. I don’t always get a load all the way through, but it’s easier to fold and put away three clean loads in a day than it is to push three loads through the whole wash/dry cycle and then put them away.
- Get breakfast ready: My poor children have instant oats with peanut butter six days a week. They’ll probably survive. But for some reason, it only takes me 90 seconds to get oatmeal in bowls at night, and it takes like twelve minutes to do one at a time in the morning and it makes me crazy. I don’t know why this happens, but if I can save myself headache in the morning by doing 90 seconds at night, I’m going to.
- Get to bed by 10:30. This has become non-negotiable in recent months. Someday, I’ll talk about all the havoc wreaked by adrenal fatigue, but for today, I will simply tell you that I make bedtime happen. It’s at this point that I listen to the readings from my Bible-in-a-Year plan.
Morning routine, which comes second, because it really is just a continuation of the night routine:
- Get up by 8. Sometimes I hit the gym with Sarah at 7, but I want to at least be up plenty before the kids come out. This makes a huge difference in the rest of my list.
- Take meds: I don’t really have words for how important this is for the well-being of me and my entire family. Oh wait. Yes, I sort of do.
- Make the bed: I don’t know when or why this started mattering to me, but it does, so I do.
- Switch laundry: remember last night’s load? If I switch it first thing, then I only need to think about it ONE MORE TIME. If putting it in and switching it over are tied to my bedtime and morning routines, I don’t waste my minimally available brain space trying to remember to mess with it. All I have to remember is getting it out of the dryer.
- Eat breakfast: I can get a quality, protein-rich breakfast in pretty easily, provided I get it going before kids are up.
- Empty the drain rack.
So that’s it. Of course there are various levels of “done” for each list, and subsequent shades of calm starts. But this doesn’t require getting my little people on board with anything, and (if I do it) we’re set up for a better day. (I do want to get good rhythms of school and chores and quiet time in with the kids, but I’m not there yet.) The rest of the day is kind of a crapshoot, but if we begin well, I’m more able to handle that.
I don’t expect your list to look the same as mine (or even close, necessarily), but I’m curious which things are your non-negotiables. What can you do that makes your whole day simpler? Join the conversation here or on Facebook!